Political Conflicts around the Internet in Russia: The Case of Yandex.Novosti

Françoise Daucé

Abstract


Between 2014 and 2016 the news aggregator Yandex.Novosti was at the core of a political conflict between the internet company Yandex and state authorities in Russia. The Yandex algorithm, conceived and developed to select and publish online news, was suspected of political bias by the Russian authorities in the context of the Ukrainian crisis.Russian legislators engaged in a two year controversy in order to control the algorithm through its registration under the law on mass media. Since 2016 the Yandex.Novosti bot is legally responsible for the content it publishes, as with other mass media. Analysis of this conflict offers the opportunity to show the new political stakes and strategies surrounding internet bots in Russia. In the critical sociology of science and technology,Western scholars have worried about the undemocratic effects of algorithms and software governing the internet. Lawrence Lessig expressed this concern with his famous sentence “code is law,” arguing for the public regulation of code in order to protect the constitutional rights of citizens. In the Russian context, on the contrary, public regulation of the code by state authorities is considered a new attack against press freedom and democracy by defenders of the “bot.” The code is considered the main defender of citizens’ rights against the state. This controversy shows the specificity of political stakes concerning the “Runet” (Russian internet) and the necessity to shift interpretative frames on the internet depending on national context.

Keywords


Code; Algorithm; Law; Internet; Media; Russia

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